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- William - .
" I Need Ships - Shall I Make Or Requisition" ?

I need ships

any people have written to me asking various questions. One of the most enquired about topics is the use of ships and some of the concerns about their function and fate before, during and after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. I would like to cover a number of points which are all ship related in this part which I consider have never been adequately explained. I ask the reader to try and visualize other alternatives which may answer some of those nagging uncertainties and questions outstanding. Mine are only possible options. Never the less, they deserve a little thought so that we can expand or disregard them later.

"You do want to be a part of this Crusade - Don't you "?

f we agree on nothing else, the number of men William brought with him who eventually fought in the final battle has been calculated to be around 7500 give or take a thousand either way. To mount an operation such as this was a logistic nightmare. It was not just a case of sticking 7500 men in a ship, sailing across the English Channel, win the battle and take over the country - THE END. It required meticulous planning and calculation. By knowing the equipment that was used in the battle and livestock to ride or eat combined with everything else that was needed to provision, fight and win a battle abroad, a figure of about 750 ships at the extreme and 500 as a minimum. Battle logistics is a subject on its own. By using experience of latter day battles, it is possible to extrapolate backwards to calculate what William would possibly have needed. I don't intend to enter into this here, as it has been discussed in another section. The most interesting is where and how did he manage to amass so many ships to start the invasion in such a short amount of time? In a matter of only a few months he managed to acquire a maximum of 750 ships. I cannot see how his workmen could produce so many in the time from Edward's death to the launch and voyage north to St Valery sur Somme. The more probable answer may be that he requisitioned most of them from the entitled who would owe him fealty. The list I have made in another section shows from official records the commitment that each of them made to the battle shipwise. The Bayeux Tapestry shows ships being constructed for the quest but I feel this was a minor contribution to the fleet total. We certainly know that he managed to twist Papal support his way and hence turn the whole exercise into a Crusade. This was the answer to his prayers. He could now go to his subordinates and neighbours and say he was invading England in God's name. He needed no more help. A Crusade was different. The offers must have flooded in. We know William was a very persuasive and intelligent man. He promised all sorts of riches and titles to those who accompanied him. Even so, he had quite a difficult job before Rome's blessing trying to talk his people round to invade England. He used his European contacts well for his own needs.

- William -  .
"Burn my ships - Do you think I am mad"?


Over my dead body !

hen Harold took Edward the Confessors word literally and declared himself king of England, he knew that he was tipping his country into a future war with Normandy. He knew William only too well after being kept as a hostage in Normandy in everything but name, he understood the implications of his actions. Remember that the Godwin family were about as anti European as you could be, and especially anti French in particular. It was quite understandable because Edward the Confessor was influenced by his earlier life in France and was much more at home with his French court around him. To make matters worse, he was slowly introducing more of them and awarding them jobs in high office which antagonized the Godwin family who were the real power brokers in England at the time. The importance of the Godwin family during this period should not be under estimated, and had been since coming to prominence in the time of Canute. Is it surprising therefore that Harold seized the throne of England ? Would it have made any difference what Edward was alleged to have said or not said? Personally I think not. There was no way Harold was going to allow any Norman to become king of his country and if so it would be over his dead body. Unfortunately, that is the way it eventually turned out to be. We may call Harold a patriot but he probably saw it more as an erosion of his position or one which would have eventually led to his family losing power. He surely felt the situation left him with little choice. Harold's right to be king of England is discussed in another section.

Military expediency or lunacy?

he inevitability of it all, culminated when William set sail with five hundred to seven hundred ships of different shapes and sizes. There were ships carrying soldiers. Some carrying supplies and others carrying horses and their grooms. The question that needs to be asked and one which has caused quite some speculation over the years is whether William after landing in Hastings, burnt his ships to avoid any chance of his men deserting? If William did order the destruction of his own ships, you must attempt to justify the military reasoning behind it. What possible advantages would there have been in following this course of action? By destroying your ships you reduce the options of your own men deserting. You are able to indicate to your troops that it was a campaign that could only end in victory or death. By destroying your ships, you stop them being captured or sunk by the enemy. Not allowing the enemy to have your weapons was illustrated during the second world war when the allies requested the French destroy their fleet to stop them being captured by the Germans. The French refused so Winston Churchill ordered the British Royal Navy to sink it. This action caused a large loss of life but was considered expedient in the military sense at the time. So you see, military tactics are sometimes difficult to comprehend. We are assuming that any decision William made to destroy his ships, if this is what actually occurred, was made by him in a sane state of mind. I find it difficult to accept that William would have followed this course of action. To cut off your means of escape makes no military sense at all. Was it possible that William was of unsound mind during this period? When William secured Papal support, did he start to believe his own hype. The quest for power has been illustrated on a number of occasions this century where the leader has used illogical thought processes to achieve results which have no military expediency at all. You might say that William fits into the above category quite well. It is not my function to prove the mental state of William. It is to speculate on the reasons why anybody would follow this course of action.

What did William do?

ssuming William did not destroy, sink or burn his ships, what would he have used them for after disembarking? As mentioned above, it is a fool or madman who cuts off his own escape route deliberately. William could have dragged his ships ashore or anchored them. Remember what happened to Julius Caesar on his visit to Britain and how difficult it became for him after his ships were destroyed by a storm. The logistical problem of feeding a army of this size must of been some concern to William. His ships could have been used to cross the English Channel for further provisions, wind and tide permitting. I think William was surprised when landing at Hastings that there was no resistance to speak of. William's plan seems to have been to allow Harold to come to him. Did William know about Harold's exploits at Stamford Bridge? It seems doubtful because I am sure he would have taken the opportunity to march inland as soon as possible if he had of known. 

Foraging parties

here is one contradiction that I find difficult to understand. William managed to keep his fighting force in order for a couple of weeks in France before setting sail due to adverse conditions. This in itself must have been quite difficult. When they landed it seems they went on the rampage using the excuse of being foraging parties. The Bayeux Tapestry makes light of what really happened. It was similar to the tactics of the Vikings. Almost a scorched earth policy was adopted by the Normans. Chronicles from the area made after the battle attest to their cruelty. That William allowed this to happen to people he eventually expected to rule, seems at odds with a well trained, fed and motivated force that William would want to take on Harold. It was also important to keep his men together in the event that he was suddenly attacked.


ood and supplies were always a problem in those days and his ships could have been his lifeline. It seems therefore, that his men became hungry as a the days passed without battle, indicating that they were not being re-supplied from across the Channel.

- Harold -  .
"Send My Ships Home - Do You Think I Am Mad"?


Two men - One crown

wo men who both consider that they should king of England who have so much in common. Both knew only one could survive. Neither had any real claim to the throne except an overwhelming lust for power. The inevitable battle was a fight between two equally matched adversaries. Whilst William was crossing the English Channel from St Valery sur Somme. Where were the English ships? The accepted answer was they were disbanded because of Harold seeing no threat from William that year. Another reason of course is that after a certain period of time on sea duty, the marine fyrd would become the liability of the king. It was in his interest and pocket not to keep them at sea longer than necessary. These sailors from the Cinque Ports were primarily fishermen by trade and pirates as a sideline. It seems strange to me that they didn't use this opportunity to come out in force to plunder some of the more helpless of William's supply vessels. William by all accounts, landed without any opposition at sea. It is possible that another answer is called for?


dward the Confessor consented to making Tostig ( Harold's brother ) an outcast due to his barbarous antics in Northumbria. There followed his subsequent banishment to Flanders in 1065. The disgruntled Tostig eventually returned in the spring of 1066 with a number of ships. Tostig, who was always a particular favourite of king Edward ( who had died ), used the opportunity to either stake a claim to England or cause as much disruption as possible to his brother. Harold seemed to accept what Tostig was doing because his raids tended to be located down the eastern coast of England and not his favoured home of Wessex. Tostig managed to recruit a small number of Cinque Port men and their ships for this expedition including those from abroad. All in all, It was not a great number. At least not enough to threaten the security of the country and to Harold's Wessex. Tostig managed this recruitment exercise by using the portsmen's dislike of the French which came from the retained memories of the Dover incident some years before combined with having as they saw it, the damage a French king was doing to the country. There was still a lot of respect for the Godwin family and for the way Harold and Tostig's father refused to take any action against the people of Dover when ordered by the king following the "Dover Incident". Unfortunately things became much more serious when Tostig joined forces with Harald Hardrada, the Norwegian king. This culminated with a brother who was king against a brother and a king in a battle known as Stamford Bridge. The battle is recounted in another section. The outcome was a crushing defeat for Tostig and Hardrada. Both were killed. It was said that only twenty three Viking ships were required to carry the survivors back home. This was a turning point fro England and for the Norse men because it ended any other future large raids by them for ever.

Just a land battle ?

n important question to ask is whether this was purely a land battle victory or did Harold's ships have a say in the eventual outcome. Could we put two arguments together ? Could the reason that William had no opposition to his landing have something to do with Harold's ships not being in the south in the first place but engaging Hardrada and Tostig's ships off the coast of Yorkshire? Of the hundreds of ships that Hardrada came with - what happened to them?


his is all speculation but should not be discounted all the same. Your thoughts would be welcome on this subject.



copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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